Mitch McKee reached some of the highest of highs in NCAA wrestling and is almost fully adjusted to starting from square one in MMA.
A D-1 All-American for the University of Minnesota, McKee knows what it takes to climb to the top of a sport. It wasn’t long ago at all that he was on the NCAA National Championship mat sealing one of the most prestigious titles in all of collegiate sports.
Being a four-time NCAA qualifier is an accomplishment a guy could get used to, no doubt, but what about when his eligibility runs out and he’s forced to face a world outside of his reign of dominance?
McKee explains that going from top of the heap to rookie with one step into Sanford MMA was a noticeable change, but it’s a challenge he’s ready to tackle.
“I told myself that I’m stepping into a new world and I’m going to have to move down the food chain,” McKee said. “I have to prove myself in this world just like I did I wrestling. It’s hard, but I prepared myself for that and knew that was going to happen.”
The 24-year-old bantamweight already stands at 1-0 professionally, and while he walked away with a second-round finish, he recalled moments of nerves where he would think back to his National Championship days to calm himself down.
There might not be anything quite like a walk to the UFC Octagon but, at the moment, the pressure and anxiety McKee went through in college overshadow MMA jitters.
“For my first fight, it was actually in Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis,” McKee said. “The whole crowd was all of my friends and family, so it was obviously a little nerve-wracking. When I was walking out, I just kept telling myself, ‘You’ve wrestled in bigger things than this, you’ve been in front of big crowds.’ I’d say the state tournament and NCAA tournament are a little more nerve-wracking than a fight.”
Although McKee has moved on from his NCAA wrestling days, he’s still a wrestler at heart, and no part of him is eager to lose his image as a wrestler first.
There’s a huge difference between peaking in college and remaining proud of past accomplishments, and a proud, confident All-American is likely to make a very, very dangerous mixed martial artist.
“I’ll always see myself as an NCAA All-American because for 20 years of my life everything was about wrestling,” McKee said. “My goal was to be an NCAA champion and I didn’t do it, but everything I put in those 20 years was for that goal. You can’t really just forget about that part of your life and everything you’ve done, and I’m grateful for it because I definitely wouldn’t be fighting if it wasn’t for that. Being a fighter was always one of my dreams and I didn’t know when I was going to pursue it, but the opportunity to come down to Florida and start fighting presented itself last year. Better now than never to face it.”
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